Archive for the ‘Caravans’ Category

LOOK OUT! Bad Highway, Great Park

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

Driving south on I-25 between Loveland and Denver I nearly lost control of my rig. We were returning from a rally. The weather was perfect. The road was straight and dry. Traffic was heavy as it always is in that area. I was towing at my normal highway speed of sixty mph when the road surface in the number two lane (farthest to the right) pitched up and down in a series lasting about a quarter mile. This wave like surface created an unsettling oscillation and sway, so much so that I was only able to regain control by using the trailer brake controller to activate the trailer brakes. I’d already taken my foot off the gas pedal and so we were slowing, but the trailer was pushing our Suburban around. By activating only the trailer brakes, we were able to slow down and stop sway.

Some of you may think that if I had a Hensley hitch, instead of the Reese dual cam, that this wouldn’t have been a problem, but you’d be wrong. Later that day, Rich Luhr and his family drove the same route and encountered the same problem. Rich even anticipated it because he noticed the undulating surface and slowed down somewhat prior to driving into it. His rig has the latest and best equipment – Hensley hitch, Kodiak disk brakes and of course his tow vehicle is a Mercedes – can’t get much better than that. My rig is all circa 1985 technology.

When we later compared notes, we came to the same conclusion. The only solution to that bad patch of road is to drive through it more slowly, perhaps at forty mph (the speed limit there is seventy-five). What we believe happened was that our trailers began seesawing and when the rear of the trailers went down the fronts went up, taking the rear of our tow vehicles with it. This effectively un-weighted the rear axles of our tow vehicles, causing the trailer to push instead of be pulled. Even with his Mercedes and its all wheel drive, the front wheels alone can’t control a thirty-foot trailer (mine is thirty-two feet, but a little lighter).

Our rigOur ’86 Excella and ’85 Suburban are in the foreground. Rich’s Tour of America bunk house is in the background.

Tour of AmericaThe leaves are turning for autumn and nicely frame Rich’s Airstream.

Fortunately, we both arrived at Cherry Creek State Park no worse for wear. The park is still Five Star, even though the staff there was on furlough the day we arrived (the Governor recently mandated four furlough days for all State employees due to a budget crisis). Both Rich and I have commented in past postings about this park, but it deserves repeating. The RV sites all have level concrete pads, full hookups, and graveled picnic table and fire pit areas. The overall scenic appeal I’d rate at least an eight and in the fall perhaps a nine.

Back-in SiteAll the RV sites, whether they are back-in, such as this one, or pull through are excellent.

There is a lake for swimming, boating and fishing. The bike paths are simply the best in the world and can take you into downtown Denver and Aurora, or out into the country if you’re so inclined. There are excellent nature trails and even a remote controlled model airplane airport, complete with paved runways and spectator stands. Outside the park is all the shopping you could hope for, in any direction. Access into and out of the park is straightforward because it borders I-225. Rates continue to go up though. That is the only downside, but it is still a better deal than any private RV park in the area.

Mt EvansMt Evans (14,240 ft), in the background, and Cherry Creek Dam are visible from much of the park.

Autumn Glory In the Southwest

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

angel-fire-caravan-reduced.jpgLocation, location, location may be a business mantra but when it comes to Aspen gold it is location and timing that is needed. You will not see one without the other. This year we have been in the right place at the right time.

We started with a small caravan from Pueblo West, CO to Angel Fire, NM. There we joined others in a rally at the Monte Verde RV Park. The owners of the park are Lynn and Maria Eubank. They are Airstream owners themselves and also members in the Club. They have been hosting rallies for us for several years and now as always, their hospitality is very special and enjoyable.

Monte Verde RV Park
Monte Verde RV Park, Angel Fire NM.

Angel Fire is a very pretty area, but the night sky is the most memorable. So clear, so dark that the Milky Way looked like a long throw of sparkling mist spilled across a blanket of black velvet studded with thousands of luminous diamonds. At over 9,000 feet the night was cold too, with temperatures down in the twenties. Our propane furnace, which worked well back in the driveway at home, failed on the road and we had to rely on one small electric space heater, but it managed.

The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, west of Taos, NM.

From there we traveled solo through Taos, where traffic is always congested, but we went through on a Sunday and it wasn’t as bad. We stopped as we usually do at the Rio Grande River Gorge west of Taos and looked at the vendor’s jewelry and took more photos of the gorge and of a new memorial marker (suicides are rampant).

No, little fella, don’t jump!
Rio Grande
Rio Grande Gorge looking south from the bridge.

We continued traveling north and west to Mogote Meadow RV Park about 4 miles west of Antonito, CO. It is an older park, but very nice, close to the Conejos River, surrounded by mature cottonwood trees that were beginning to turn. Being that it is only four miles from the station, Mogote made a nice base for us to ride the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Rail Road. We splurged on the deluxe touring package, a bus ride from Antonito to the charming little town of Chama, NM. There we boarded the narrow gauge train pulled by an antique steam locomotive. We rode in the parlor car for marginally better service and comfort.

Mogote Meadow RV
Mogote Meadow RV park, CO.

The only other time I’ve been on a train (other than light rail) was when I was a child with my mother on a “modern” diesel powered passenger train from Chicago to Denver back in the Fifties. I remember that being a pretty smooth ride. The C&TS RR is not. It is bouncy, rocky, and loud. But that is part of its ambiance, and it was a lot of fun. The main reason for our taking it though wasn’t for the old railroad experience, but for the majesty of autumn in the Rocky Mts.

C&TSRR, in aspens
The C&T Scenic RR passes through Aspens close enough to touch.
C&TSRR at 10,000
The train stops for lunch at about 10,000 feet.

Oh, my, although we’ve lived in Colorado all our lives we’ve never seen it this good. The aspen trees were at or very near their peak of golden yellow occasionally punctuated by a grove of fiery red. Over each rise, around each curve the beauty continued to surpass what came before, so much so that it was overwhelmingly exhausting because there was simply too much to humanly take in. My neck ached from straining and twisting to see it all.Aspens, aAspens, b

The weather was perfect too; warm enough for a short sleeve shirt, even at 10,000 feet, with scattered white fluffy clouds set against the intense Colorado deep blue sky. We began at 8 a.m. and ended around 4 p.m., more than one passenger fell asleep as early as 2 p.m. due to the warmth and rocking motion of the train. The hot turkey lunch most passengers opted for might have had something to do with it too (as turkey contains tryptophan, a natural sedative).

The next day we returned to the area of the Conejos river valley to tour by car. I resisted the impulse to take a thousand photographs, but only because I had to do the driving. We scouted out the Ponderosa Campground as a potential site for a rally. It is located across the Conejos river from Colorado Highway 17 and has a mountain backdrop covered with Aspen and Pine with campsites surrounded by Cottonwood trees.

Ponderosa RV Park
Ponderosa RV Park along the Conejos River & CO State Hwy 17.

The managers told me they hoped to maintain the campground’s vintage appearance, and earlier had some Vintage Airstream Club members stay with them. I was mystified though that it was their last day (September 30th) and would close for the season. But it was the same for many of the campgrounds in the area, both private and public. I’m not sure why they do that as normally the first snow in Colorado is around the end of October, and the end of September and first week of October are the best time of the year for viewing the mountain autumn colors. They have location, location, location, but reject the best of times to be open. Is it because they want to keep it to themselves?

Fred’s Dead? Say It Ain’t So!

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

When I told Airstream Life editor, Rich Luhr that Patrice and I would be on caravan from Denver to North Platte, Nebraska, and wouldn’t be able to get together with him and his family I think he thought I was joking. They were camped in Cherry Creek State Park just a few miles from our condo. I could tell he was a little mystified when I told him I was serious. Who goes on a caravan to North Platte? Isn’t Nebraska just someplace to get through instead of it being a destination in and of itself?

The Golden Spike Tower
The Golden Spike Tower

Well, I have to admit I too was skeptical, but it turned out to be a fun little caravan and rally. North Platte is a destination that some railroad buffs consider the equivalent of Mecca. The world’s largest railroad “classification yard” is in North Platte. Called the Union Pacific Bailey Yard, it is where 3,000 cars are sorted each day on over 300 miles of 18 receiving and 16 departing tracks – all enclosed within an eight mile area. It includes one of the UP’s largest repair facilities in a building large enough to house 3 football fields and that employs 750 workers.

Bailey Yard
This is just a portion of the west end of the Bailey Yard

The Bailey Yard can now be viewed from the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center. The tower opened just this Spring and already it has had over 13,000 visitors. The yards and operation can be viewed from the main level 95 feet above the ground. The main level is 1,925 square feet of floor space and the grand 360 degree view is fully enclosed. There is also an outdoor viewing platform that allows visitors to “feel and hear the action going on below.”

The Challenger
The Challenger locomotive is the only type of its kind on display in the world.

North Platte owes its existence to the railroad. Buffalo Bill Cody settled there so that his Wild West Show could be close to the railroad. In fact, engineers from around the world visited his operation just to study how the Wild West Show loaded itself onto the trains. Cody apparently had it down to a finely tuned efficient operation.

Buffalo Bill Cody
Cody lives on in reenactment.

So in North Platte today there are a variety of museums dedicated to the railroads and to Cody. The area has a rich although underrated history. During WWII, for instance, local residents opened a canteen for soldiers headed for the front lines, and supplied them with food, cigarettes and magazines. It grew from a simple and small operation to one requiring numerous volunteers and donations from the surrounding area. For instance, I learned that sugar beet farmers in the area were allocated 100 lbs of sugar a month for their own use, but donated it to the canteen to bake cakes, among other things, for soldier’s birthdays. Bob Greene wrote a book about it, Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen.

The canteen is gone now, but North Platte hopes to recreate it as a museum in the near future. Until then, other museums, such as the Lincoln County Historical Museum and Village, have displays with artifacts and photos.

There are quite a few small towns scattered around the country that offer free RV parking in their city parks or fairgrounds. Finding one of these gems is a real treat and we made use of one both on the way to North Platte and also on our return. Just off I-79 about a block north of exit #80 in Fort Morgan, Colorado, is Riverside Park. The park offers 12 electric hook-ups (15 amp only), large shade trees, walking and biking trails, a water park and a small Zoo.

The city is also quite proud of its Rainbow Arch Bridge, an open-spandrel bridge built in 1923 that is the only multi-span arch bridge of its kind in Colorado. At 1,100 feet in length, it is also one of the longest in the nation. Currently, it spans the South Platte River and serves as an entrance to the Pawnee Pioneer Trails Scenic Byway. The byway winds through the Pawnee National Grassland where the natural prairie is little changed since pioneers in covered wagons drove through it on the Overland Trail.

Rainbow Arch Bridge
Located at the northwest corner of Riverside Park (I-76 and Colo. 52) this James Marsh designed Rainbow Arch Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks and the National Register of Engineering Landmarks. Photo courtesy of

Although the city offers the RV parking at no cost, donations are accepted, so do put a few dollars in the collection bin to help with the cost of supplying this service.

I think that what the caravan and rally proved is that you don’t have to travel thousands of miles to exotic locations to have a good time in your Airstream. No doubt it would be the experience of a lifetime to take the Alaskan Caravan that Renee and Fred Ettline on currently on, but let’s face it, not everyone gets to do that. With fuel costs up along with all the other costs of living staying close to home makes financial sense and encourages you to find treasure in your own “backyard.”

Feather Rivers RV Park
Part of the caravan at Feather Rivers RV Park, North Platte, NE.

Ps.. Speaking of the Ettlines, a member on our caravan told me that Fred had died quite suddenly and unexpectedly. I was shocked and really bothered by this bit of information and couldn’t believe that I was so out of touch that I didn’t know about it, but our informer assured me that he was certain. Fred and Renee had befriended us in 2006 at the WBCCI International Rally in Salem, Oregon and we are quite fond of them. With this news of Fred’s death I panicked and started emailing various people to find out if it was true… completely forgetting that all I needed to do was read Renee’s blog on the Airstream Life Online Community. Whew! Isn’t it amazing what rumors can do? Just in case any of you heard the same, be assured that the rumor of Fred’s demise is very premature and he is still “Living the Life” with Renee!